At the age of nine, my school backpack was the first thing I picked up when my mom told my nine siblings and me that we would leave Oaxaca, Mexico. I did not pack clothes or special belongings. I held on to my future tightly and my vision of going to college remained with me until the day I crossed the stage holding onto my Master’s degree. My parents did not have a college savings account nor did they plan for a pathway to prepare me for college. Due to my immigration status, I had zero financial aid assistance and at an early age, I learned the importance of advocating for myself. Today, I am not afraid to ask others for help and I want to inspire that same fearlessness and determination in others.
Reflecting back, I think that my immigration status was a blessing in disguise. It pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and to fight for my dreams. I applied for every financial scholarship and leadership opportunity available. I learned that there is no shame in asking others for help. Organizations like the Greenlining Institute, Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, Chicana/Latina Foundation, Educators for Fair Consideration, and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation among others, welcomed me with open arms and provided me with something even bigger and more empowering: community.
Aside from financial aid support, these programs provided a sense of empowerment, leadership skills, and a great support system. This is exactly what our Latino youth need today—they need mentorship, financial support and people who deeply believe in their potential. The other thing our youth need is something they can and must find within themselves. Latino youth need to internalize the belief that indeed, they are the leaders of tomorrow. When the number of Latino college graduates continues to shrink and the Latino population in California continues to expand, our Latino youth need to believe and advocate for themselves.
Personally, I converted the burning fire inside of me into determination and perseverance to achieve the goals I always dreamed of. I was able to graduate college with two Bachelor degrees, a Master’s degree and zero school debt. I didn’t do it alone; I did it alongside all the organizations and people who believed in me. All I want to do now is pay it forward. I cannot return every dollar given to me, but I can certainly mentor other Latino students and I can start to give back little by little.
I joined the Latino Community Foundation, Latina Giving Circle because this is where it starts—this is where I hold myself accountable to give back, to share what I know, to empower others, and most importantly, to explore the endless possibilities of making the world a better place. I hold onto this dream as tightly as I held onto my backpack when we left Mexico. I am excited to give back to my community and to continue to move forward.
Isabel Cortes, Mario O Alvarez, and Kira Vilanova – All Latina Giving Circle members!
Maria O. Alvarez on April 18, 2014 at 5:21 am
Isabel, we are all so excited to have you as a member of the Latina Giving Circle. Thanks so much for sharing your story. What an inspiration for our youth!!!